By now, you’ve probably heard the extensively horrible news from the classical music world that Keith Brown, the father of the sibling pianists The 5 Browns, has pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of all three of his daughters. The children severed professional ties with their father in 2008, but only came forward to law enforcement last year when they received word that their father was thinking of managing other child musicians. One can only imagine what they must have felt when they heard that piece of news. The charges were filed last week, and a few days later Keith Brown drove his car off a road into an icy creek, with his wife in the passenger seat. The timing is certainly suspicious, but local police seem convinced that it was indeed an accident. He’s now facing a lengthy prison term. His lawyer tells Deseret News that Keith is “terribly remorseful.” Well, I guess that’s better than nothing.
There really isn’t that much to learn from this sad situation, though the Salt Lake City Tribune usefully reminds us that most child molesters follow this same pattern, targeting children related to themselves. The reason the Browns’ story is appearing in places like People magazine is that the Browns were successfully marketed as this clean-cut, wholesome, middle American family. Now we know that this is what was happening underneath all the early press coverage that emphasized how normal and down-to-earth this family was. I guess the lesson would be that you can’t always believe the stories that celebrities and their publicists tell you in the pages of magazines like People. That would be the lesson, except that you already knew that. Like I said, there’s not much to learn.
The Browns perform and record pretty much as a unit, and classical music critics (not without reason) tend to dismiss such acts as novelties. That has not happened yet with the Browns, probably because they’re all Juilliard pupils and because they’re still developing as artists. (Desirae Brown, the oldest of the siblings, is 32. Classical pianists don’t typically peak until their 50s.) They mostly play five-piano arrangements of orchestral music. Those don’t do a whole lot for me, though some of their choices are pleasingly bizarre, like this bouncy rendition of the cantina music from Star Wars. Playing a selection like that won’t help you get taken seriously by classical music critics, but I thought it was brilliant. The piano arrangement exposes the music’s roots in mid-20th-century jazz, and it reminded me of that composer John Williams can write music other than the big, brash orchestral fanfares that he’s best known for. Some of the Browns have played a few pieces on their own, too. I liked Melody Brown’s homemade version of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A major (Op. 118, No. 2). Even with the wrong notes and background noise, the emotional heat comes through in her reading of this piece, which is a personal favorite of mine.
The 5 Browns’ only official response to all this has been a terse statement on their website (which is down at the moment due to high traffic) thanking their fans for their support. It looks like they will continue their music career uninterrupted. Their next album is due out in April. All I can say is: Power to them.
Here’s footage of their appearance at Fort Worth’s Steinway Hall in October 2009. You can hear them playing Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King, Holst’s The Planets, and Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.